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Kenya defense chief among 10 officers killed in military helicopter crash; 2 survive

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Kenya's defense chief and nine other top brass died on Thursday in a military helicopter crash in a remote area of the country, President William Ruto said. Two officers survived the crash, including the pilot.

"Today at 2:20 pm, our nation suffered a tragic air accident... I am deeply saddened to announce the passing of General Francis Omondi Ogolla," Ruto told reporters.

The president, who had convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Council after news of the accident emerged, said nine other "gallant military personnel" on board were also killed while two survived.

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Francis Ogolla in 2012. Khalil Senosi / AP

He said the Kenya Air Force has dispatched an air investigation team to establish the cause of the crash, which took place in Elgeyo Marakwet county, about 250 miles northwest of the capital Nairobi.

The helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from Chesegon, where he and his entourage had been visiting a school, Ruto said.

"A distinguished four-star general has fallen in the course of duty and in the service of the country," he said. "Our motherland has lost one of her most valiant generals, gallant officers, service men and woman."

Ruto announced three days of mourning from Friday, with official flags flying at half mast.

He said Ogolla, 61, had left Nairobi on Thursday morning on an air force Huey helicopter to visit troops deployed in the North Rift area in Operation Maliza Uhalifu (Operation End Crime in Swalihi), and other sites.

Kenya military chief killed in helicopter crash
An infographic created on April 18, 2024. Kenya's military chief Gen. Francis Ogolla was among 10 people killed in a helicopter crash. Yasin Demirci/Anadolu via Getty Images

Kenyan authorities have long battled insecurity in the Rift Valley region, with armed bandits and cattle rustlers rampant.

"The helicopter burst into flames after crashing and it had more than 10 senior commanders on board including General Ogolla," a police officer had told AFP earlier.

"They were in the area on a security mission because there are KDF (Kenya Defence Forces) soldiers deployed in the region," he added.

Ogolla was appointed Chief of the Defence Forces by Ruto in April last year after a stint as deputy.

Ruto told journalists last May that he appointed Ogolla despite him being among those who tried to overturn his narrow election win against opposition leader Raila Odinga in 2022.

"When I looked at his CV, he was the best person to be (a) general," Ruto said, adding his decision went against the wishes of many people.

A trained fighter pilot, Ogolla joined the KDF in April 1984, rising through the ranks to command the Kenyan Air Force in 2018, a post he held for three years.

He also trained as a fighter pilot with United States Air Force, Reuters reported, citing his Defence Ministry profile.

He was a graduate of École Militaire de Paris, the National Defence College of Kenya, Egerton University and the University of Nairobi.

Gen. Ogolla is survived by his wife Aileen, two children and a grandson.

The crash marked the second time in three years that a helicopter crash killed 10 military officers in Kenya.

At least 10 soldiers were killed in June 2021 when their helicopter crashed while landing near the capital of Nairobi. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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